P&Z: “Sharp Hill Square” Can Open 2/3 Done, but Must Rethink Signage; Responds to Being “Chastised” by ARB

The first meeting of the Planning & Zoning Commission for 2022 kicked off on Monday, Jan. 10. The Commissioners heard applications for a diverse set of projects impacting residential, commercial, and agricultural sites in Wilton. The Commission also responded to comments made last week by several members of the Village District Design Advisory Committee/Architectural Review Board, as reported by GOOD Morning Wilton.

Two applications, an addition to the circa 1795 Samuel Olmstead House at 518 Nod Hill Rd. and updated signage for 396 Danbury Rd., were swiftly approved. Several other projects led to further discussions.

Millstone Farm

Millstone Farm at 180 Millstone Rd. filed for permission to add four new horse stalls, a grooming stall, and a storage room to the existing indoor riding ring structure.

Purchased in 2017 by Volckert and Eliane van Reesema (under the name Millstone Property Holdings), the farm was the subject of heated controversy over the new owners’ plans to convert the structures and grounds into an agritourism business.

Representing the owners, Casey Healy of Gregory and Adams provided a brief history of the project.

“A special permit was granted in December 2017 for a 14-stall stable and indoor riding ring, as well as outdoor riding rings and parking,” he said. “We are seeking administrative approving for four additional stalls, a grooming stall, and a storage room within the existing indoor riding room. No other additions on the property are involved.”

He also noted that the horses are on the premises primarily between mid-December and mid-April; at other times of the year they are in Florida and Kentucky competing in the dressage show circuit.

After a presentation for the proposed addition by Kathleen Royle, an attorney with Gregory and Adams, Town Planner Michael Wrinn posed to the Commission that their first order of business was to decide whether to consider this a minor change, or one requiring a special permit.

Vice Chair Melissa-Jean Rotini brought up a series of topics linking back to the original discussion between the town, the Commission, and the owners.

“I know you’re saying you don’t need any more parking, but with the four stalls, are you increasing the number of horses and staggering it so you have more people and visitors but won’t need more parking?” she asked. “And does the location have an impact on the stormwater run-off? I also recall a statement in the original application that these horses were supposed to be for the owner’s personal use.”

Commissioner Eric Fanwick weighed in on whether to send the project through the special permit process, which would involve a public hearing period:

“It seems to me at the time that the neighbors were very interested and had a lot of input. I hate to go down that road because it’s not a huge change. But we should err on the side of caution.”

Rotini replied, that she didn’t find that compelling but that the issue, “is whether the resolution was drafted to intentionally limit the number of stalls and how many people are coming in and out—there can be a material change without a material change to the building.”

Chair Rick Tomasetti directed Planning and Zoning staff to revisit the original resolution and report back on the topic Rotini raised.

Sharp Hill Square

The mixed-use development under construction at 200 Danbury Rd. was the subject of two applications: one to phase the project, allowing the developer to open and occupy parts of the complex as they finish construction rather than waiting for the entire complex to be complete; and another concerning signage.

Dubbed “Sharp Hill Square,” the development will include retail, offices, and 24 residential units. As part of the project, the developer agreed to restore the historic Raymond Morehouse House as an adaptive reuse opportunity.

Developer Patrick Downend presented the phasing topic first, explaining that, “We are seeking to separate the front buildings from the rear building. For a lot of reasons, the rear building has been delayed by 6-8 months. The front buildings, the B Building and the Raymond Morehouse House, are now 95% complete. We should be in a position to seek occupancy for those buildings soon.”

The Commission was sympathetic to the construction delays, which have been impacted by global supply chain issues. Commissioner Chris Pagliaro moved to allow the project to be phased and the motion passed unanimously.

Turning then to the topic of signage, Wrinn summarized prior conversations between the Architectural Review Board (ARB) and the applicant. He noted that ARB proposed the relocation of a hanging sign onto the porch roof itself, which avoids blocking a historic window. ARB also stressed the importance of establishing a consistent typeface and color for all signs throughout the property, and suggested that the developer switch to pineapple finials. Downend agreed to these changes.

The bulk of the debate, however, focused on the dimensions of the signage along Route 7 (15’ x 11’7”) and Sharp Hill Road (8’ x 9’3”).

“I’ll be honest, I’m scared to death of these signs,” Pagliaro said. “I know it’s a difficult thing with these kind of developments with so many tenants, but I think we’re getting into Las Vegas territory. It scares me. I don’t know how to judge a sign of this size.”

Rotini requested renderings of the signs in place, to visualize any sight line impacts. Commissioner Florence Johnson echoed her. “I agree, I would like to see the signs in the context of the streetscape.”

Tomasetti added, “While I like the style of the sign, I think the sheer scale of this is too large.”

Downend agree to come back with a scaled rendering with sight lines showing proportionality with the buildings and the street.

Administrative actions and a Response to ARB

The meeting concluded with a series of administrative topics, including the passage of a motion to allow the Chair of P&Z to appoint members of subcommittees between now and December 2023, when the next election of officers will take place. Tomasetti then appointed Rotini to chair the by-laws subcommittee, which will be charged with looking at how P&Z conducts meetings, especially in terms of time afforded to the public and applicant, and the electronic participation process. Rotini invited Commissioner Florence Johnson and Commissioner Jill Warren to participate in the by-laws subcommittee as well and both accepted.

Tomasetti also appointed Rotini and Pagliaro to the new master plan subcommittee. Both served on the initial subcommittee last year that resulted in the hire of BFJ Planning to develop a comprehensive roadmap for how Wilton can utilize and optimize Wilton Center.

Just prior to the conclusion of the meeting, the topic of last week’s ARB meeting was brought up during a discussion about the relationship between P&Z and ARB. Commissioner Ken Hoffman requested further information about the division of labor between the two groups.

Rotini and Johnson inquired about deliverables that P&Z expected to receive from ARB. After the group agreed that the deliverables had never come in, Pagliaro added, “We’re just going to get it through GMW when they chastise us.”

Chair Tomasetti then spoke about the article in question, in which ARB Chair Robert Sanders was quoted saying, “We’ve heard several people, including the chair of P&Z, saying [to BFJ] ‘we want your vision, we want your vision.’ In some ways, that statement is an abdication of the town’s responsibility to have a vision.”

“Like we did with Plan of Conservation and Development, this is an open and transparent process. As I said to the consultant, I want them to be visionary. That’s not to say I’m relying on their vision. The comment is about the consultant not giving us a pre-canned determination—don’t just repackage something you’ve done for another town. We are not shirking responsibility for how we do that.”

In conclusion, he said, “We as a Commission saw fit to actually form the ARB and those of us who were around at the time were proponents of it. I think it’s a good thing we have it but we have a ways to go to understand how they can support us. That said, with respect to what we’re doing here with the master plan—we’re on top of it.”

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